How does national security affect you at the local level?
In his first weeks in office, President Barack Obama has begun to address national security issues here and abroad. By signing an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center and pledging to end combat operations in Iraq in the next year and increasing combat forces in Afghanistan, the president’s actions have been viewed as a significant departure from security policies of the Bush administration.
"What you have seen in the first week is rapid change and a resetting of our global agenda," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs in a press conference. "The president believes we can't afford to continue what we are doing. We can't afford to slow down."
President Obama’s policy doesn’t stop with the wars and Guantanamo Bay; they extend to domestic national security issues. With the appointment of Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security, the department has begun to focus on threats to the nation’s public transportation systems and the infrastructure. Additionally, rather than conducting sweeping crackdowns on illegal immigrants, the department has centered its illegal immigration approach on identifying those illegal immigrants with violent criminal records who may be threats to national security.
National security, local impact
Whether you drive, take the bus or public transportation to school, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is concerned with making sure that you get there safely, minimizing threats to personal and public safety. Since her appointment, Secretary Napolitano has stated that she will shift the focus of securing the nation’s mass-transit security to the bus and rail lines that crisscross the country.
Currently, 75 percent of the nation’s rail and bus systems are not up to the security guidelines set by Homeland Security, reports USA Today. In contrast, 96 percent of the airlines are complying with the stricter guidelines the agency set after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. "We've done an awful lot in the aviation world," Napolitano said. "We could pay more attention" to surface transportation security.
By first assessing the state of the nation’s infrastructure — public transportation lines and interstate highway systems — and finding security lags such as unsecured rail lines and public transportation stations with inadequate police presence, Napolitano has pledged to address these issues. According to policy established by Napolitano, the heart of bolstering the nation’s infrastructure security will be intelligence sharing with state and local law enforcement. By having vital information accessible to state and local fire, police and public transportation departments, the Department of Homeland Security will be able to quickly assess and neutralize threats rapidly. Simply put, if a DHS discovers a threat, local and state law enforcement will be able to respond quickly and assist the department.
In addition to information sharing, the DHS has been in the process of integrating local and state governments in the procedures and policy-making of the department. By having an open dialogue between agencies and requiring local and state law enforcement to be trained in standard DHS procedure, Napolitano pledges to ensure that all levels of law enforcement are using a similar method of handling national security threats. "One of my top priorities is to unify this department and to create a common culture," she said in a statement. "I look forward to receiving the information and to working with the offices and agencies involved to make DHS a more effective and a more efficient department."
Immigration issues go local
Border security and immigration are other aspects of national security that have a direct impact on local communities. When the DHS was created, and the Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agency, was made a part of DHS, the primary focus of immigration officials was to go after fugitive illegal immigrants, ones with violent criminal records, or people involved in cross-border organized crime. As the years progressed, ICE began arresting and deporting fewer and fewer illegal immigrants with criminal records or ties to organized crime. In addition to this, a policy shift in ICE allowed them to be able to target companies hiring high numbers of illegal immigrants, leading to large sweeps in which several hundred illegal immigrants – many without any previous criminal record - would be arrested and deported according to the New York Times.
Napolitano said that she will get back to the primary mission of ICE and shift the focus from large sweeps to apprehension of criminals and terrorist suspects. In order to do this, DHS will expand cooperation with local authorities, working with local and state law enforcement agencies to identify potential suspects. The department will also attempt to speed up the process in which the individuals are processed and deported. DHS has proposed training local agencies so they can participate in the investigation and arrest of illegal immigrants deemed threats to national security.
Balancing the economy and safety: Iraq and Afghanistan
In addition to national security efforts throughout the country, he Obama administration is also working to minimize the local impact of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cost of the war in Iraq, estimated at $12 billion a month, comes from tax dollars collected from you and every taxpaying U.S. citizen. These costs, coupled with the faltering economy, have made reducing troop numbers in Iraq, ending military operations in the Middle Eastern country not only an issue of security but of economics.
President Obama has pledged to reduce the number of troops in Iraq by “substantial numbers” within the year, up to one brigade — 1,500 to 4,000 soldiers — a month. He says that the Iraq is ready to take on its own security: "In conversations I have had with the joint chiefs, with commanders on the ground, I think we have a sense, now that the Iraqis just had a very significant election with no significant violence, we are in a position to put more responsibility on the Iraqis," Obama said a New York Times interview.
The reduction of troops in Iraq is considered by the Obama administration as an issue foreign policy and economic importance. ABC News reports that the Iraq War costs $12 billion per month. Because of the increased stability in Iraq, the president says this expense can be reduced and that money could go towards domestic problems, helping with the economic issues the nation currently faces.
Afghanistan, however, will not see a reduction of combat operations, as the administration considers this war to be vital to reducing security threats for Americans at home and overseas. Having begun a comprehensive review of combat operations, the administration has said that it is considering increasing the number of soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan from 38,000 to 60,000 in the next 18 months, according to a New York Times report.
The president has stated that stability and the reduction of threats to the American people was essential. "Obviously, our efforts to continue to go after extremist organizations that would do harm to the homeland is uppermost on our minds," Obama said, in a Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting.
The human rights dilemma: Guantanamo Bay
One of the most controversial national security issues the new administration faced was the fate of the Guantanamo Bay detention center (for more information, read the Speak Out) and other foreign prisons the U.S. operates in order to hold suspected terrorists. These prisons have drawn criticism from many domestically and abroad for keeping prisoners without formal charges for indefinite periods of time. The prisons bring up the issue of how to balance the need to apprehend, hold and interrogate suspected terrorists while upholding human rights for prisoners.
In his first days in office, President Obama signed an executive order that will close Guantanamo Bay and other foreign prisons in the next year. The order also calls for all 245 detainees currently being held to be transferred to federal prisons, released or prosecuted, ending the indefinite imprisonment of those being held without being confronted with formal charges.
In addition to the eventual closing of prison facilities, the president ordered immediate end to coercive interrogation techniques, considered by many human rights groups to be a forms of torture. The Central Intelligence Agency will now have to use the same interrogation techniques as the military, which are in line with international guidelines. Critics argue, however, that these methods should be available in extreme cases, in which a suspect’s cooperation is necessary to thwart a possible threat to the safety of Americans.
What do you think?
How do you think integrating local police and fire departments into federal policy will help address national security threats? Should Homeland Security change immigration policy to apprehending fugitives and possible terrorists? What do you think about withdrawing troops from Iraq and increasing troop numbers in Afghanistan - how should the administration balance threats to our security with economic issues? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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